Veronica adjusted her fishnet stockings and tugged at the hem of her fake leather skirt. It was no use; the skirt wouldn't come down any lower. She wasn't sure it completely covered the curve of her ass. She stood extra tall on her sky high bright red pumps. Good posture was the only hope she had of retaining any mystery at all in this get up. Of course, standing straight with her shoulders thrown back might help the tiny skirt cover her backside but it also emphasized the miracle her bra was performing. The nip in the night air only added to her disguise, as the fake rabbit fur shrug keeping her from freezing to death came several inches shy of closing over her newly discovered cleavage. She sighed, realizing she was in a no win situation. Either her butt would hang out the bottom of her skirt or she was going to put someone's eye out. She caught a glimpse of her reflection as she strolled by the window.
Hooker Barbie lives again.
I should have worn this for Halloween.
Veronica had been relieved to board their jet and put the coast, the party, Duncan's case and the past behind them. Every part of her relaxed as they gained altitude. She opened her laptop and used their time in the air to immerse herself in her own case; the artists, lawyers, agents, bankers and buyers of fine art while Keith tried once again to teach Logan to play chess.
The addition of the Sheriff to their trip home was a nice surprise.
He had been waiting on the tarmac to talk to Logan about 'Love Her to Death'. Veronica had immediately invited him to Minneapolis for Halloween.
"I'd love to Honey but I can't really take the weekend; I let Eli off so I'm the only one manning the shop."
"For cryin' out loud, Dad." She said. "You deserve at least a weekend off for closing Duncan's file. The underbelly of Neptune will still be sleazy next Monday."
"Really, Sheriff." Logan joined in. "Anything that can't wait til Monday is probably not a job for you anyway. Besides, if we talk about the book, it's a business meeting, right?"
"Not unless, or until we actually make money on it." Keith pointed out. "Which remains to be seen."
"You're my co-author." Logan said. "I could expense this flight."
"Nonsense." Veronica frowned at Logan. "I just want to spend another Halloween with Dad. Come on, how often will it fall on a weekend? This is serendipitous!"
"It's not like Halloween is really a daddy/daughter holiday anymore." Keith said. "You haven't let me tag along for trick or treats in years."
"I haven't actually gone trick or treating in years." She said. "I was kind of hoping to experience it from the other side of the doorbell. I've heard rumors that Halloween is a fun Holiday for grownups, too."
"If you didn't secretly want to join us, why'd you come to the airport?" Logan changed tactics. "You could have just called me."
"I tried that. Your phone is off." Keith told him.
"What?" Logan pulled out the phone he never turned off and looked at it with a sigh. "No juice."
"So why didn't you call me?" Veronica asked, then answered her own question. "Because you secretly wanted to see me and come home with us for Halloween!"
"That, or you wouldn't pick up." Keith said.
"What?" Veronica checked her own phone and saw that she'd missed two calls from him.
"It's no biggie!" Keith laughed. "I knew I could catch you here and this way, I'd get to say goodbye face to face."
"And you'd get a chance for us to talk you into coming with us." Logan said, triumphantly.
"Thanks kids. I appreciate the invite but I really gotta stay." Keith hugged them both and kissed his daughter then turned and walked toward his car. As he went, his phone buzzed. He pulled it out and looked at it, then turned and trotted back toward the jet. "What the hell! It's the weekend. When's the next time Halloween falls on a weekend?"
"That's what I'm saying!" Veronica laughed as they hooked elbows and climbed the stairs to the plane.
"So, what about the book?" Logan asked after Hubbs greeted them and they took their seats.
"Lloyd offered to look over what you've got so far." Keith told him. " Says it's good to get a fresh take. I think he makes a good point; he can give you a valuable critique."
"Okay." Logan buckled up. "You want me to email you the file or print a hard copy?"
"Hard copy. Too easy to pirate cyber copy." Keith said, repeating what Lloyd had told him.
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Nope. That's pretty much it." Keith answered, buckling his own seat belt. Their business meeting was done before they'd begun to taxi.
"Darling, if that doesn't get him here, he's gayer than I am." Elliot said, looking with satisfaction at the photo he'd just sent on Marla's phone.
"It's been two months." Marla said. She studied the picture. Her ample bust was bursting out the top of her tiny sexy nurse costume. No nurse in history had ever walked the halls of a hospital in the four inch, white patent stilettos she had on. The piece d'resistance was the thermometer she'd had resting against her red lacquered lower lip, just about to slip under her tongue in extremely suggestive fashion.
"If that doesn't get him here, I'm joining a convent." Marla said.
"Maybe we should use this on our brochures." Elliot said, thoughtfully.
"Checkmate." Keith said for the third game in a row.
"Whatever." Logan dismissed the board and pulled out his phone, which had begun to chirp. "What up, Piz?"
"Hey, Logan!" Piz said. "Hey, uh…I was wondering if, um, if you'd be my Best Man?"
"What? No. What about Wallace?"
"Well yeah, of course I asked him first but he said not to bug him with wedding stuff until the season was over."
"Oh, right. Bad timing." Logan murmured.
"Besides, Vegas is the only place for a bachelor's party and you've got a private jet." Piz laid out his extremely logical argument.
"We're not going to Vegas without Wallace." Logan said. "When's all this happening?"
"Well, Parker and I weren't in a hurry or anything. At first we thought we'd just take our time and enjoy being engaged and stuff but her parents are being so obnoxious about how young and stupid we are that Parker set a date just to shut them up. I swear, every time her Mom makes some crack about how we should slow down and think about what we're doing, which she always manages to sound like she's calling us idiots without actually saying it, Parker adds another layer of tradition to this thing. Get this; she's chosen two shades of pink for her flowers. I'm even considering a groom's cake that looks like an armadillo."
"Yuck." Logan winced.
"We're going full Steel Magnolias." Piz said. "Church organist and everything."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Logan said. "What does that have to do with Vegas?"
"Haven't you seen Steel Magnolias?" Piz asked. "Oh, man; you should. It's a great movie! Funny as hell, then it rips your heart out and makes you cry. Julia Roberts has never been better and don't even get me started on Sally Field and Shir—"
Logan ended the call.
"What was that all about?" Veronica asked, looking up from her laptop.
"I honestly have no idea." Logan told her. His phone chirped again and he answered.
"Sorry about that," Piz said. "My phone's been dropping a lot of calls lately."
"I hung up on you." Logan told him. "You got lost on a tangent."
"Oh. Okay. Anyway—"
"You want me to be your best man because I can take everyone to Vegas on my jet." Logan summarized.
"Okay." Logan agreed. "But I'm only standing in. Soon as basketball is done, Wallace is taking over."
"Done." Piz said firmly. "I'm sure Wallace'll go for that."
"Yeah, he just doesn't like distractions during the season. The man's working, after all."
Having settled the matter, Logan hung up.
"Did Piz just ask you to be his Best Man?" Veronica asked.
"Yeah." Logan said.
"That is… so sweet!" Veronica smiled. There had been a time when even imagining such a thing was an impossibility.
It was early in their sophomore year at Hearst and Wallace, no longer a red shirt, had made grades and rejoined the basketball team. Several of his friends had come to cheer on his inauguration as starting point guard.
"When Wallace first told me he was 'red shirting'," Mac had admitted, "I thought that meant he was off the team for good." Max had laughed but Logan just looked confused.
"Why?" He asked.
"Don't you know what a red shirt means?" she asked, horrified.
"Yes." He frowned. "Don't you?"
"Yes! I don't think you do."
"I don't think you do."
"Will all trekkies please raise their hands?" Max asked. He, Mac and Piz and a skinny kid in the row behind them all raised their hands while Logan looked disgusted.
"I'm surrounded by nerds." He said, shaking his head. "I just hope I look cool by comparison."
Mac, Logan, Piz and Max had attended the game and the plan was to meet Veronica and Parker for pizza later. Mac and Max had gone ahead as soon as the game was over, leaving Logan and Piz alone in the corridor outside the team's locker room, waiting for Wallace.
The erstwhile rivals for Veronica's affections had struck an uneasy truce after the events the previous spring. It helped tremendously that Logan was back (where he belonged) with Veronica and that Piz was now head over heels in love with Parker.
Logan found Piz's starry eyed admiration only slightly less annoying than his former resentment.
For instance, loitering in the empty corridor outside the locker room, Logan found the way Piz bounced nervously from foot to foot, awkwardly making small talk, completely exhausting.
"Dude! You gotta relax." He'd finally cut Piz off in mid-inane-sentence. "You can't go on being so uncomfortable around me. We have too much in common."
"Wuh…I… No we don't!" Piz stammered, thrown completely off balance.
"Yeah, we do." Logan nodded. "Believe me, everything you've been through this year? Been there, done that, way more than once."
"What do you…ew." Piz blushed. "No! Man, we didn't-"
"No, doof." Logan mercifully cut him off, rolling his eyes. "I'm talking about the entire year. You should know; I broke the trail for the every step of the path you trod."
Piz looked at him for a long moment, trying to remember everything Wallace had ever told him about Logan Echolls. He finally shook his head and said "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Please!" Logan laughed. "Zoning out on you here in the hall, it hit me; Déjà vu all over again. Is it still Déjà vu when it happens to someone else? Maybe not." He shrugged. "Still..."
"Seriously, Man." Piz insisted. "No idea at all."
"So, we can add 'stupid' to your list of short comings?" Logan needled.
"I never really considered it, but yeah, I've never felt more stupid than I have since I came to Neptune." Piz admitted. "Day after day, it hits me in the face."
"That's what I'm talking about." Logan nodded. "It's not you; it's the 'Veronica Effect'. She has a way of making everyone around her feel like an idiot."
"Are you saying she's a…an intellectual snob?" Piz frowned.
"No, I'm saying we're all idiots. You really think you're the only guy to get the shit kicked out of him over Veronica? You're not even the only guy in this hallway."
"Well, I'll bet whoever beat you up didn't do as thorough a job as you did on me." Piz snorted.
"Pay up; I've got the X-rays to prove it.'Course, it took six bikers to put me in the hospital and it took about six seconds to put you there."
"Six bikers?" Piz relaxed against the opposite wall.
"You took on six bikers?" Piz raised an eyebrow, skeptically.
"I was pretty drunk at the time."
"Maybe you were seeing double. Or triple."
"Well I saw a dozen so... the police report says there were six."
"Okay, I believe you." Piz assured him. "What did they want?"
"They wanted to kill me." The matter of fact tone of Logan's voice said more about his tumultuous life than any story Wallace had ever told. "Long story but the nut of it is just like yours; a big misunderstanding at the heart of which was Veronica Mars. I didn't do what they thought I did and you didn't do what I thought you did. I told you I was sorry about that, didn't I?"
"Yeah. Right after you waxed the floor with Gory." Piz remembered.
Logan threw back his head and laughed. "Oh yeah! That was fun."
"Fun? I suppose you think what happened next was fun, too?" Piz demanded, curious.
"What?" Logan waved off the memory of his excellent adventure with Gory, "I've survived worse. I'd take a rematch with Gory over one with those PCHers any day."
"As long as you don't demand a rematch with me, I'm good." Piz grinned.
"God, you're a pussy." Logan smirked. "Piz the Pussy."
"You seriously don't want a rematch?" Logan sounded incredulous.
"Why would I want to give you another chance to break me into little pieces?" Piz logically pointed out. "And over what? A girl who never wanted me in the first place? A girl who was thinking about someone else the whole time she was with me?"
"You know she was."
"How about over the fact that I attacked you, out of the blue, for no other reason but that I really, really wanted to?" Logan laughed.
"Why is that funny?" Piz demanded.
"It's funny because I was you the year before." Logan grinned. "And not just the part about broken bones and black eyes. I know what it's like to pine for Veronica Mars. Better than you ever will, believe me."
"I thought you were her-"
"If you say 'high school sweetheart'," Logan cut him off, "I'll back hand you into that trash can."
"I was no such thing."
"ZIP IT." Logan barked. "You loved her pure and chaste from afar for what, six months? I did it for six years."
"No offense man, but I've heard enough to know you weren't exactly pure or chaste."
"Oh fuck, no. My love for her was the only thing pure or chaste and that wasn't for lack of trying. But I never even would have tried if she hadn't kissed me first."
"She kissed you first?" Piz's eyebrows flew up at that. "She kissed me first!"
"God, you are a pussy!" Logan guffawed again.
"Shut up! I kissed her. It's just…"
"WHAT?" Logan was impatient with Piz's pauses.
"At your party. I kissed her and it was like…nothing. No reaction at all. But I figured at least now I know. So I was leaving, and she followed me out to the hall and kissed me. That was more like our first real kiss."
You mean where I so rudely interrupted?"
"At my party. In my hallway?" Logan prompted. "I got off the elevator to the sickening sight of you two sucking face."
"Oh." Piz smirked. "I don't know. I never saw you."
"Am I the only one who heard the screaming?" Logan muttered, frowning.
"So why am I the pussy here?" Piz backtracked. "You said she kissed you first."
"Yeah." Logan's face took on the glaze of memory as he slowly shook his head. "I never would have kissed her first, not in a million years. It never would have occurred to me."
"Pussy." Piz snorted.
"No, dude. She was off limits. She was my best friend's girl." Logan explained, casually crossing one ankle over the other as he added, for honesty's sake, "Plus, she hated me."
"Then why did she kiss you?" Piz pressed, buoyed by his success in calling Logan a pussy.
Logan's eyes refocused on him so sharply that Piz became very tense as he leaned against the wall.
"She kissed me because I beat the snot out of someone for her." Logan grinned.
That figures." Piz said dryly, amazed once more at how insane the idea of he and Veronica as a couple now seemed. "So; you loved her from afar-"
"Pure and chaste from afar." Logan corrected.
"- for years and never would have made a move if she hadn't started it?"
"Yep. Just like you; mooning over her all year never making a move even though she and I were kaput at least twice during that time..."
"Which is sort of like saying you quit smoking again."
"... You did nothing until she not only gave you the green light but hit you in the mouth with it."
"She's not the one who hit me in the mouth."
"And you got the shit kicked out of you due to a misunderstanding involving her."
"That's what happened to you?"
"You spent three hours in the emergency room. I spent three days in the ICU and three weeks in summer school." Logan smirked. "And to cap it all off, the first time we were together, I always suspected she had someone else on her mind."
"Now you're just rubbing it in." Piz said, ruefully.
"Yeah." Logan laughed again. "Still don't want a rematch?"
"No." Piz said adamantly. "I want to know why all of that makes me a pussy but not you."
"None of that makes you a pussy, it's everything else." Logan waved his hands comprehensively toward Piz.
"Fuck you!" Piz laughed. "I lived through Hurricane Veronica, I'm no pussy!"
"You've never even seen Hurricane Veronica!" Logan exclaimed. "You bailed at the first sight of clouds."
"I did not." Piz insisted. I bailed at the sight of her watching Hurricane Echolls. "There were always clouds. Anyway, if it's so much trouble being with Veronica, why do you bother?"
"You mean why would a guy who doesn't have to work at anything in life be willing to work his ass off for love?"
"Uh…well, yeah." Piz was a bit thrown by Logan's easy use of the 'L' word.
"What else am I gonna do?" Logan asked.
There was something in the way he said it that gave Piz an idea of just what Logan meant. That short statement completely captured Logan's situation. Piz realized with a shock that until this moment, he'd never really understood what it meant to go all in. He said the only thing he could think of.
"Wow. You are such a pussy."
So it was that Wallace came out of the locker room to find the two of them wrestling and howling with laughter on the floor of the hallway. Despite having Piz in a headlock, it was obvious enough that Logan meant him no actual harm. Wallace looked at the pair as they broke their clinch and scrambled up off the floor.
"He called me a pussy." They claimed, pointing at each other. Wallace shook his head but didn't say a word as he started for the door at the end of the hall.
Piz was never uncomfortable around Logan after that.
"Sweet?" Keith asked. "Sounded to me like Stosh just asked your jet to be his Best Man."
"Piz is not as dumb as he looks." Logan said.
They hit a snag when they deplaned in Minneapolis and saw the Ferrari in the hangar, right where they'd left it. The little yellow sports car had only two seats.
"Don't worry." Keith said. "I'll take the light rail to the big mall. I came without any luggage, remember? I can pick up a toothbrush, pajamas and some fresh undies."
"It's not called the 'big mall', Dad." Veronica said. "It's either MOA or Mallofamerica. And please refrain from referring to your undies in front of me."
"You prefer to think of him as going commando?" Logan asked.
"I prefer to believe that he has no need for such items." Veronica answered, with a deer in the headlights look on her face.
"But if that were true, Logan and I would be the only two standing here." Keith pointed out. "And even that seems unlikely."
"Fine." Veronica put up her hands to end the inane track the conversation had veered off on. "Go to the mall, buy all the unmentionables you want and call when you're ready to be picked up."
"Oh, don't worry about me, I'll take a cab." Keith assured her. "I'll see you at the house."
Back at the house on Cedar Lake, Veronica and Logan saw that JR had been busy. The front stoop held the pumpkins they'd carved before leaving town and the front yard now looked like a cheesy cemetery from which half the occupants were in the act of escaping from their graves.
"Nice." Logan approved of the non-Hollywood level of spooky decorations. Years ago he had voiced his visceral opinion against anything that smacked of production values.
As they kicked their way through the last of the fallen leaves in their backyard, bare tree limbs, stretching like twisted fingers across the overcast sky created a spookier effect than any set decorator could possibly have concocted. The world seemed to take on an eerie stillness as it awaited the moment when the veil between this world and the next would thin enough for spirits to roam at will. Veronica reached for Logan's hand as they crossed their back patio.
"The woods look like an Arthur Rackham drawing." She told him.
"Come on inside and I'll show you."
"I love it when you say that!" he grinned.
The scene that greeted them in the kitchen could not have been more homey and inviting. JR sat at the island, reading the newspaper to Bryn as she pulled a fresh pumpkin pie out of Veronica's convection oven. The room smelled like autumn in Heaven.
"Oh my God, everyone should come home to pie!" Veronica exclaimed. "Do we have whipped cream?"
"Of course we do." JR replied. "No half assed measures around here!"
"I prefer mine without the whipped cream." Bryn said. "It's just…distracting."
"You make a lousy hedonist." Logan told her.
"We haven't had any lunch." Veronica said. "Let's have some!"
"It really should set for a few minutes," Bryn warned.
"But we're so hungry!" Veronica turned her Bambi eyes on Bryn.
"Please." The other girl snorted, unimpressed. "Finbar was born with Bambi eyes."
"It's true." JR said, shaking his head. "She's totally immune."
"It's my kitchen." Veronica changed tactics. "Therefore it's my pie."
"I am not immune to logic." Bryn acquiesced, picking up a knife and cutting a slice for Veronica, who had already pulled the can of whipped cream out of the refrigerator. "But it really will be better in a couple of minutes."
"I'll have another piece then," Veronica said, covering the hot wedge with sweet foam, grabbing a fork and digging in. "I'll tell you if you're right."
"So, what's new here on the Home front?" Logan asked, watching Veronica eat.
"Nothing." JR shrugged. "We buried some bodies in the front yard. How was the coast?"
"Bodies buried everywhere." Logan said. "The surfing was awesome."
"Like the old days?" JR had seen more than his share of 09er parties.
"The heir to the Kane fortune will soon come out of hiding, suffering no more than a minor slap on the wrist and it turns out Sheriff Don Lamb was a criminal master mind." Logan said. "But everything else was just like the old days."
"This pie is heaven." Veronica groaned. "Bryn, you should go into business. This is even better than the pumpkin bread and those muffins you made last week. I didn't even know I liked pumpkin."
"I thought Lamb was an idiot?" JR asked. "I never knew him but you always gave me that impression."
"Did I?" Veronica asked, clearly more interested in the pie.
"Yeah." JR said. "You never mentioned him without using the words idiot, dolt, brain donor, moron or waste of space."
"Well, it seems I was wrong." Veronica shrugged. "Turns out it was all a cover while he ran a lucrative sideline of losing evidence and smuggling billionaires over the border."
"Yep." Logan nodded, watching her. He couldn't decide if he was more impressed by the ease with which Veronica spun the official tale or inhaled that big wedge of pie. "I'll have some of that pie, please."
Keith's heart was hammering in his chest as he walked up to Marla's front door. He felt like a kid on a first date. At the Mall, he'd found the few things he needed as quickly as possible and then took the light rail downtown. He got off just a few blocks from Nicolette Island, where she lived.
He knocked on the door, hoping she wasn't off showing a house on this Saturday afternoon.
The door swung open. For a moment, they just stared, unable to believe they were face to face after two months of phone dating.
"Trick or treat!" He said.
The stunned look on her face melted into a delighted smile. "I don't have any candy."
"I don't like candy."
"Well," she reached out and grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him inside, "Maybe we can find something else."
Keith could barely wait until the door shut behind him before he took her in his arms. They were enjoying a long awaited kiss when an indignant voice interrupted them.
"Marla Anastacia Banks!" Elliot exclaimed. "One minute you're sexting some hottie on the coast and the next I find you making out with the Fedex man? What has come over you?"
They broke their clinch. Keith looked down at her flushed and lovely face. "Your middle name is Anastacia?"
"No." She said breathlessly. "Elliot, I'd like you to meet Keith Mars."
"Ooh." Elliot's demeanor changed immediately. "So you're the mystery Martian! Oh, thank God you're real. I was beginning to think my girl here invented you to avoid the horrors of the current dating scene."
"I know. She told me." Keith offered his hand and Elliot shook it. "Nice to finally meet you, Elliot."
"We just love your daughter and son in law." Elliot said. "Quite aside from the fact that they made this our most successful year ever, they're the cutest couple we've ever met. Well, until today." As he uttered the last phrase, his eyes swooped up and down the pair of them, still in each other's arms. "I believe I just remembered a compelling reason for leaving immediately! Call me later, love. When you have time."
With that, he grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair and swooped out the door.
"I like him a lot more than I thought I would." Keith said.
"You must have already been in the air when I sent that photo!" Marla said, calculating the time it would take to get there from the coast.
"My kids have a private jet." Keith reminded her.
"I'm so embarrassed." She grimaced, thinking her sexy text was overkill.
"Why? Your timing was perfect. I almost didn't come."
"OH. Well, in that case, thank God for my slutty nurse costume!"
"Yeah, where is it, anyway?" Keith noticed that she was in jeans and a sweater that did wonders for her figure but wasn't the least bit slutty.
"It's…ah…Tell you what; let's do this whole Halloween trick or treat thing right."
"You want to play doctor?"
"You play doctor; I'll play slutty nurse," She moved toward the stairs, "making a house call."
"Best Halloween Ever." Keith sighed.
"Oh my gosh," Veronica groaned. She was sprawled at the kitchen island, her head down on the granite. JR and Bryn had gone, leaving the couple to unpack and unwind after their trip. "I should not have had that second piece of pie."
"Have we finally discovered the limits of your abilities?" Logan asked. "I'm disillusioned; I thought you could do anything."
"I am usually much better at recognizing my limits." She hopped off her barstool and took her plate over to the dishwasher. "But that pie is incredible. I swear, if Bryn keeps this up, I'm going to get as fat as a house." As she spoke, she bent over the machine and put the dirty dishes inside. She stood to find Logan eyeing her ass while eating one of Bryn's pumpkin spice cookies with cream cheese frosting.
"What?" she asked, alarmed. Surely the pie couldn't have made a difference already?
"I'm just imagining you fat." Logan mused.
"What? Stop it!"
"You would look adorable!" he smiled.
"Shut up!" she was torn between laughter and horror.
"Have a cookie." he offered.
"Hey." Keith answered his phone. He was alone in Marla's living room. "What's up?"
"I just figured you'd be done with your shopping by now." Veronica said. "Want me to pick you up? I thought a walk around the lake would give you the perfect look at a spooky, late October day here in the great white north."
"OH." Keith looked up to see Slutty Nurse Marla strike a vampish pose at the top of the stairs. "I…uh…Honey that sounds great. But I don't need a ride. Be there in ten."
"What?" Marla demanded, dropping her seductive stance as Keith ended the call. "I dress up like this and you've made a date with someone else?"
"O god." Keith breathed, staring at her from below. "You look good enough to eat."
"You just said you were leaving." She stomped down the stairs, which wasn't easy in stilettos.
"I'm sorry! Veronica called and…"
"And you couldn't tell her you were with me? What's going on here, Keith? I am way too old to be a booty call for someone who flies in from the coast every few months. Oh, never mind; I like that part. Are you hiding us from your daughter?"
"Marla, you are not a booty call." Keith assured her. "That's why I decided to cut this…whatever, short. I don't want to hide us from the kids. I don't want this to be something I sneak around to do. I want our first time together to be wonderful and romantic, not just some quickie afternoon thing. I want to do this right."
"I think you showing up here out of the blue is romantic." Marla said. "You're presuming a lot, buddy, to think you were in for an afternoon quickie."
"Says the slutty nurse." Keith's eyes slid up and down her costume appreciatively.
"Yeah, well…" Marla looked down at her ample, mostly exposes cleavage. "So why isn't it working?"
"It's working." Keith grinned. "think of how much better it'll work after a day with the kids…pretending to listen to them…" his voice dropped low as Marla leaned toward him, "…close enough to touch but not touching…counting the hours till we can get back here…"
"Yeah." She breathed. "That sounds really good. Let's go."
Keith took advantage of her proximity and kissed her. "You should probably change."
"What this?" she indicated her costume. "I only wear this old thing when I don't care how I look!"
"Okay, lets' go." Keith took her hand and pulled her toward the door.
"Real funny, Sheriff." She pulled back. "As if I'd show up at your daughter's house like this. And Keith? When we get around to it...it better not be quick."
"You're taking recent developments better than I thought you would." Logan said to Veronica as she snuggled beside him in bed that night.
"I am, aren't I?" She said in a tone somewhere between self-congratulatory and stunned.
When Keith had arrived at the house with Marla in tow, Veronica and Logan had both acted as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
They walked around Lake of the Isles, where Marla treated them to tales about many of the mansions that lined that parkway. She had stories of the local and nationally known celebrities from musicians, artists and writers to politicians and criminals who had occupied houses on the lake at one time or another. Nearly one in five was currently on the market due to the rupture of the housing market a few years earlier. Logan was especially interested in her knowledge of which of the palatial edifices had recently undergone refurbishment or remodeling.
After their walk, Marla and Keith went out and picked up groceries for dinner. Logan grilled the steaks and they ate on the patio. After dinner, they had pumpkin pie and sat around the fire pit long after dark, talking and watching the embers float into the autumn sky.
It had been a perfect day.
Logan hadn't expected his wife to accept the idea of her father and another woman so easily. Veronica's jealousy regarding all the men in her life was a character flaw she fought against constantly.
"You're handling it like a champ!" He told her, pulling her into his arms. "I'm proud of you."
"I'm glad." She smiled, tucking her arms around him. "I think maybe...now that I have you, I guess I don't need him all to myself anymore. Does that make sense? In fact, I want him to be as happy as we are. And Marla just sort of seems to belong with us. Know what I mean?"
"It also helps that she's here and not in Neptune." Logan said, nodding.
"What difference does that make?"
"Think about it: if the Sheriff had a girl in Neptune, he'd be happier at home. This way, he has two reasons to come to town and less reasons not to. Besides, all the women in Neptune are…"
"Yeah." She knew what he meant. "Yuck."
"Did you ever like any of the women your dad dated?"
"I liked Alicia." Veronica answered. "Wallace's mom? I don't know what happened there."
"He dated Wallace's mom?" Logan asked. "Why didn't I know that?"
"I don't know. Don't you remember that summer before senior year? She was always around."
"I was kind of pre occupied that summer." He said, dryly. Recovering from broken ribs, his father's arrest, being charged with the murder of Felix Tombs, dealing with summer school, falling love and getting his heart ripped out by the woman currently in his arms had required all his attention. He'd certainly had no interest in Sheriff Mars' love life. "I guess I noticed she was around but she was just Wallace's mom."
"And you thought that was normal?" she asked. "Did your friends' moms just hang around your house?"
"Oh. Right." She looked at him. "And for the same reason."
"It honestly never crossed my mind that she was the Sheriff's squeeze."
"Believe me, Wallace and I worked real hard to keep it from crossing our minds as well."
"I'll bet!" he laughed. "Wow! What if they'd gotten married? You and Wallace…"
"I had dibs on the top bunk." she giggled.
"I can't believe I never knew that your Dad and Wallace's Mom…wow. So what happened?"
"All I know is it must have been big because they were crazy about each other." Veronica sighed. "And then it was over. And there's definitely a shortage of terrific women in Neptune."
"He dated that hot counselor at school. Becky something."
"You thought she was hot?"
"She was hot. Despite those tight sweaters she always seemed to be cold." He grunted as his wife elbowed him in the ribs. "She was totally annoying though."
"Yeah." Veronica sighed. "I screwed that up for him. Back then, I wasn't ready to give up on my Mom yet. I still had dreams of putting the family back together."
"I know that feeling." He tightened his hold on her and they fell asleep tangled around each other.
Halloween dawned gray and raining. A slight breeze made the bare tree branches scratch at the sky like skeletal fingers. The air was still warm but the rain brought the threat of colder weather and the cloud cover muffled the world, making it feel close, small…
"…and menacing." Logan finished, his voice dropping into a low, spooky register.
Veronica shivered. "That's it, exactly." She nodded. "It's like the world itself is…"
"Lying in wait." Logan took a sip of his coffee. They were sitting in the sun room, watching the low clouds melt into the back yard as the bare cottonwoods looked like they were trying to hold the sky in place. "You can feel the veil between the worlds thinning as the other side tries to break through."
"Spooky." She said, appreciatively. "The rain adds the perfect atmosphere for spooks and spirits. Do you think it'll depress the number of trick or treaters?"
"This is Minnesota." Logan scoffed. "Three feet of snow couldn't keep these ghosts and ghouls from their appointed rounds."
"Three feet of snow?" she raised an eyebrow.
"Yep." He tapped a command into his laptop. "The Great Halloween Blizzard of '91. Bryn says its one of her earliest memories. It started snowing shortly after dark and they stayed out in it till it was up to her waist. Of course she was only three, so…See?"
He turned his screen towards his wife. She looked at the images of her adopted city, buried in a blanket of smooth, perfect white…the top half of cars standing out like mesas in a desert.
"Wow." Veronica looked out at their back yard. The grass was still green. Two of the three sets of French doors out to the patio were closed against the cool, wet morning. All summer long, they'd kept them open, as well as the transoms of the floor to ceiling windows along the north side of the room, virtually turning the sunroom into a screened porch all summer. "Hard to imagine all this covered in snow."
"Yeah. They say it'll happen but I'm skeptical." Logan shook his head. "I'm beginning to suspect these wily Midwesterners have been putting one over on us. I mean, come on: if the rest of the world knew about it, everyone would want to live here."
"We've only lived here for a few months but they just don't seem that devious to me." Veronica said.
"And that doesn't make you suspicious?"
"Hmmm…it kinda does." She admitted, looking around. "Did you hear my Dad come in last night?"
Logan shook his head but at that moment, Keith entered the room in his bathrobe, carrying a cup of coffee.
"No donuts?" Veronica murmured.
"Wow!" Keith said, standing at the large windows, looking out at the back yard. "What a great, spooky Halloween day. Halloween in Neptune isn't any scarier than the Fourth of July."
"Sure, the sun is always shining in SoCal but you gotta admit, every day in Neptune is fraught with peril." Veronica pointed out.
"Earthly peril, from our fellow men." Logan said in his spooky voice, "Not otherworldly peril from malevolent spirits due to a crack in the gates of Hell."
"Neptune, Hades...one's just wetter than the other." She said. "How'd you sleep, Dad?"
"Great." the Sheriff sat at the table. "Marla and I rode the Haunted Trolley."
"Is that what they're calling it now?" Logan murmured.
"TMI!" Veronica looked aghast.
"It runs between Lake Harriet and Calhoun." Keith said, innocently. "The houses along the way decorate their back yards with spooky scenarios. It was fun."
"That does sound fun!" Veronica turned to Logan. "We should do that."
"Sounds lame." Logan said. "Like it's for little kids."
"It's for the young at heart." Keith said, mock defensively. "There were a lot of little kids on board."
"I want to do all the normal, spooky Halloween things." Veronica insisted. "All we've ever had is the west coast, millionaire, sunshine weirdness of Neptune."
"The conductor was made up like a zombie." Keith informed them.
"Maybe he wasn't made up: I hear the zombie apocalypse is nigh." Logan suggested.
"Let's do it." Veronica cajoled.
"I love it when you talk dirty." Logan said. "But maybe not in front of the parental unit?"
"Him? He's cool." Veronica waved off Logan's concerns.
"I don't think he is" Logan said as Keith voiced "I'm really not."
"I'm a married woman." Veronica grumbled. "I should get to ride a haunted trolley if I want."
The rain stopped in the early afternoon but enough clouds had lingered to create an eerie evening, scudding across the sky, giving cover to who or whatever might be frolicking up there. The moon rose early enough to play peekaboo with the knots of ghosts, ghouls and princesses who roamed the streets demanding tribute. Having had no time to prepare costumes, Veronica and Logan had thrown together vampire costumes that consisted mostly of black and white makeup and fake blood. JR and Bryn had arrived in oddly mismatched costumes.
"I'm Hugh Hefner!" JR said, displaying his bathrobe and slippers. "I thought that was self-evident!"
"Well, I never said I was coming as a Playboy Bunny." Bryn's voice drifted out from the acres of fake, pink fur she was wearing.
"' You look like a pink nightmare!'" Logan said, in his best Darrin McGavin.
"Thank you." Bryn nodded, dipping her giant pink ears.
"And I look like an idiot who forgot to get dressed, much less get a costume." JR grumbled.
"They say all disguises are self-portraits." Veronica said.
"Yes, in my heart, I'm a dissipated old billionaire letch." JR agreed. "Except for the old part."
"Or the billionaire part." Logan added.
"Or the dissipated letch part." Bryn laughed.
"Which leaves you a lazy slacker who lives over your buddy's garage." Veronica said, eyeing him up and down. "That's pretty on the money."
"I got it!" JR said. "If she's Ralphie," he threw his arm around his girlfriend the bunny, "I'm Randy!"
"Which brings us right back to Hugh Hefner." Logan murmured.
Marla had arrived in a slightly less slutty version of the nurse, bringing a lab coat, stethoscope and hacksaw for Keith. They'd hung around for the bulk of the trick or treaters, then headed off to a party at Elliot's. Marla invited them all to come along, which Veronica appreciated but crashing a party with her Dad didn't sound nearly as alluring as s'mores and adult beverages around her own fire pit. Shep and Tuskie had arrived as trick or treaters and stayed for a bowl of JR's chili and a drink before continuing on their spooky rounds.
Long after the last of the trick or treaters had retired from the streets to count and categorize their haul, washed their faces and gone to bed, Logan, Veronica, JR, and Bryn sat around the fire pit in the backyard, watching the flames dance and the sparks drift toward the sky. Occasional sounds of Halloween parties in the neighborhood drifted into the yard on the breeze.
"The Ring." Said JR. "That movie scared the crap out of me."
"Poltergiest." Said Bryn. "but only the scene where that creepy little woman said 'to Carrie Ann, it is just another child but to us, it is the beast'!"
"I liked Fallen, with Denzel and Goodman." Logan said.
"Me too," Bryn said. "Except for the girl who studied angels and demons. She was lame."
"Why?" Logan demanded. "She was a good character."
"She was supposed to be an expert in demonology but she had no idea what to do when she finally met one." Bryn scoffed.
"Oh, like it's so easy to keep your wits about you when faced with one of hell's denizens?" Logan scoffed.
"She spent her whole life preparing for that moment and she choked. Lame." Bryn insisted.
"Scariest movie based on classic literature?" Veronica suggested.
"Spencer Tracy's Jekyll and Hyde." Logan declared. "No special effects, just a great story and an incredible performance."
"Does The Shining count as classic literature?" JR asked.
"Maybe not but really scary movie." Veronica nodded.
"I loved DeNiro as Frankenstein's monster." Bryn said. "Made me cry."
"Wasn't scary, though." JR said. "How about Coppola's Dracula?"
"That camped out crap fest?" Logan cried. "Boo! Every movie Christopher Lee ever made was a scarier vampire movie than that, including Star Wars."
"Well, they're all pretty campy." Bryn said. "They have to be, since there's no such thing as vampires or ghosts."
"You don't believe in haunts?" Veronica asked.
"Not even on Halloweeeen?" Logan asked in a spooky voice.
"Oh, I do. The world is full of haunted places." Bryn said. "Folk tales tell the same sorts of stories over and over, in all cultures. You don't get a cross cultural phenomenon like that unless there's something to it."
"So you do believe in ghosts." Logan said.
"No." Bryn shook her head. "Every culture has a different explanation for it but its a universal experience. We're all afraid of the same things."
"Places like battlefields, graveyards or hospitals, where tragic, traumatic events left a…a powerful emotional residue that reverberates over the generations." JR suggested.
"Emotional residue?" Bryn mused. "I don't think terror or trauma causes the haunting but probably draws it."
"What do you mean?" JR asked.
"Well, if terror, trauma and death were all that was necessary," Bryn said, "Then the new world trade center and the memorial would be one of the most haunted spots in America, right? Not to mention every place where slaves were ever bought, sold or held."
"Maybe it is: the new tower isn't finished yet." Logan said. "It could be haunted."
"I doubt it, though." Bryn shook her head. "Somehow I don't think a tourist attraction smack in the middle of Manhattan is conducive to haunts."
"Too many distractions?" JR asked.
"That close to Wall Street," Logan quipped, "who would even notice the wailing and rattling of chains?"
"Yeah." Bryn nodded. "From the spiritual point of view, that kind of haunting would be a waste of time."
"That kind of haunting?" Veronica repeated.
"Well, I'm not saying there's not a very strong possibility of people experiencing angst and horror there." Bryn said. "Which is very conducive to malevolent spiritual activity, just not your classic haunted house type thing."
"You do believe in ghosts!" Logan cried. "You totally do."
"Not ghosts." Bryn shook her head. "The disembodied souls of the dead don't hang around to scare the living."
"Then what are you talking about?" Logan demanded.
"There are only two kinds of spirit beings." Bryn explained. "Angelic and demonic. Angels are messengers and warriors. They aren't known for trying to present themselves as something other than what they are, which is certainly terrifying but only because we don't expect them. That's why the first thing they say is usually 'don't be afraid!'."
Logan and Veronica stared at her.
"Demons, on the other hand, are pure malevolence." Bryn continued blithely, "Their entire existence is about scaring us because fear is the easiest way to manipulate anyone. Places like Gettysburg or Auschwitz, where human suffering and cruelty reached their peaks would draw demons like an over ripe carcass draws flies. It makes perfect sense that we think of haunted houses as being that way because, say, murder was committed there but it's not the ghosts of the people involved in the original event doing the haunting: its demonic infestation."
"The Devil made me do it?" Logan murmured.
"Yeah. Then he or his minions hang out, hoping to repeat their triumph." Bryn nodded.
"So basically you're saying the Exorcist is the scariest movie you've seen?" Veronica asked.
"One of 'em." Bryn nodded. "But there's a documentary about the actual case that book is based on that was way scarier than Linda Blair puking pea soup."
"The actual case?" Logan blinked.
"Yeah." JR nodded. "You knew that Peter Blatty based his novel on a real event?"
"No way." Logan shook his head.
"I always assumed that was just Hollywood PR." Veronica said.
"No, it was a real case." Bryn said. "In fact, the younger of the two priests grew up here; my grandma knew him. The real victim was a little boy, not a girl and it took over a year to expel the demon."
"Because what they needed was a psychiatrist, not a priest!" Veronica said.
"Most exorcisms do involve a doctor." Bryn said. "Both to rule out medical and psychological causes and to treat any physical injuries that may occur. Exorcisms are dangerous business."
"You can't possibly believe that." Veronica said flatly.
"History is full of accounts of people being injured while fighting demons." Bryn said.
"History is full of accounts of people with psychological disorders!" Veronica answered.
"Yeah. So?" Bryn shrugged. "JR was telling me something about a condition called 'sleep paralysis'."
"A neurological disorder that effects sleep patterns." Veronica nodded. "The victims are awake and aware but can't move or speak. That would be horrifying."
"The symptoms are exactly the same as a phenomenon that's been described across cultures for thousands of years." Bryn said. "Most of the victims feel as though a heavy entity were sitting on their chest, holding them down and making breathing difficult. It's where the term 'nightmare' comes from. Incubus and Succubus are demons blamed for the state."
"Right, but now we know there's a medical explanation." Veronica said. "While dreaming, we produce a chemical that causes temporary paralysis. It's an evolutionary safeguard to prevent us from doing harm to ourselves or others while dreaming. In sleep paralysis victims, the chemical floods the system while the person is awake and lucid."
"Yes." Bryn leaned forward, "And do the patients all experience an oppressive entity?"
"It's fairly common." Veronica admitted. "But the feeling of pressure on one's chest could easily be caused by the paralysis of the pectoral and abdominal muscles, interpreted by the awake as a physical weight."
"Do they ever see anything?" Bryn asked. "Or hear voices? Sometimes in a language they don't know?"
"Also easily explained by the chemical apparent in the bloodstream." Veronica said. "The range of normal in humans is very wide."
"But if you were a demon, looking for a soul to oppress, wouldn't some poor slob, paralyzed in the dark moments before sleep, be the perfect victim?" Bryn whispered.
"Sounds like easy pickin's to me." Logan agreed.
"If you were a demon." Veronica said. "Are you suggesting that sleep paralysis is really demonic possession?"
"No," Bryn shook her head. "I'm saying demonic activity probably mimics lots of different psychological disorders."
"So some people aren't crazy, they're possessed?" Veronica grinned.
"Demonic oppression is less severe than full on possession." Bryn clarified. "The difference wouldn't be in the symptoms or the suffering but in the treatment. Isn't it true that some patients are less amendable to psychiatric treatment than others?"
"Of course." Veronica said.
"Because maybe, some victims are suffering from something that seems just like sleep paralysis but is actually something else?" Bryn suggested.
"It's extremely rare, but not unheard of, for a second person in the room or the bed, to share the experience." JR pointed out. "That alone would suggest that something different was going on. You read the same case files I did."
"Sleep deprivation is an under rated health concern." Veronica said. "People whose sleep patterns are disrupted for long periods of time frequently experience psychological difficulty even to the point of psychotic breaks. It's why keeping prisoners awake is such a useful form of torture but it's quite a leap to assume demons."
"Agreed." JR nodded. "But how do you explain the case of the black cat, whose threats woke up the victim's girlfriend?"
"What?" Logan asked, leaning forward eagerly.
"A patient experienced an incident where he believed a large, black cat with glowing eyes sat on his chest and told him he was going to take him back to hell with him." Veronica explained. "Clearly, he was in a waking dream state."
"The cat disappeared when his girlfriend, asleep next to him, woke up screaming." JR said. "She had just had a dream that a big, black cat with glowing eyes had entered the bedroom and been screaming at her boyfriend."
"Whoa." Logan leaned back in his chair, delighted. "Explain that, Sugarpuss."
"She's lying." Veronica laughed. "There's no way to prove someone didn't have the dream they claim they had."
"Very true." Bryn nodded. "It helps that no one wants to believe her."
"Kinda sounds like you do." Veronica teased.
"I meant 'no one' in the general sense." Bryn said. "Whether or not that particular girl made it all up has no bearing at all on the historic reality of demonic activity."
"Reality?" Veronica's eyebrows shot up.
"What about the two women who prayed?" JR asked Veronica.
"For one it helped, for the other it didn't." Veronica shrugged. "Its called the Placebo effect."
"What did they do?" Bryn asked.
"They each described similar events over the course of years," Veronica said. "The whole shooting match: lying there, wide awake, unable to move while a large, awful thing sat on their chest. One even felt sexually violated. Both were religious and prayed for it to stop. For one, it worked. The other still suffers to this day."
"What prayers did they say?" Bryn asked. "Exactly?"
"Does it matter?" Veronica asked.
"Only if demonic activity is present." Bryn answered. "In which case it matters tremendously. Anyone can perform an exorcism but only in the name of Jesus Christ, although plenty of Saints are helpful. People suffering from infestations frequently make the situation worse by bringing in mediums, spiritualists or shamans when only an exorcist, acting in the name of Christ can help them."
"The woman who said she prayed 'make it stop, please make it stop', still suffers." JR answered. "The one who prayed "Please God, make it stop" said it ended immediately and she's never had another incident."
"So only one of them said a real prayer." Bryn said thoughtfully.
"Please!" Veronica laughed. "I don't think it's helpful to blame insomnia on Satan."
"No, but are you ever more vulnerable to dark, dreadful thoughts than in those long, lonely hours, waiting in vain for the blessed respite of sleep?" Bryn asked in a low, melodramatic voice. Logan burst out laughing.
"You'd be scaring the shit out of me if you weren't dressed in pink bunny suit!" he told her.
"What?" Bryn looked down at her fluffy costume. "You've never seen Donnie Darko?"
"Hey, how did that documentary on the exorcism end?" Veronica asked.
"And what made it scarier than the movie?" Logan wondered.
"Part of what made it so creepy was that the priests weren't trying to be scary." Bryn said. "They talked about these unnatural occurrences in the most matter of fact way. The boy was about 12 when it began and while I don't think he ever went full Linda Blair, he did suffer vomiting spells, speak in languages he didn't know, including backwards English, words appeared spontaneously scratched into his flesh and levitation took place in his room. Hearing first hand from men who experienced it has a lot more weight to it than the performances of actors, no matter how good the special effects are. The boy and his family were not religious but during the months of his ordeal, they were all baptized into the Catholic Church. Even that didn't end the torment."
"Then what good is it?" Logan asked.
"These things take time." Bryn said. "It takes years to undo the damage smoking and drinking does to your body, why assume battling demons is different?"
"So what finally worked?" JR asked.
"Demons are liars so talking to them is usually a waste of time but this one told them 'I'll never leave him until he says a word and I'll never let him say it'. This is my favorite part…" Bryn leaned toward the fire and smiled. "That word turned out to be 'Michael'."
"Michael?" Veronica asked.
"The Archangel who cast Lucifer from Heaven." JR told her. "In Genesis."
"Exactly." Bryn nodded.
"So what did they do?" Veronica asked.
"Believe it or not, when they finally invoked him and asked for his help, he appeared."
"What do you mean 'appeared'?" Logan asked.
"Both priests claimed to have seen a vision, however briefly, of a winged warrior, sword held high…and the demon fled and the boy recovered."
For a few moments the only sound around the bon fire was the crackling of the flames.
"That's awesome." JR finally said.
"Great story." Logan nodded.
"You," Veronica pointed at Bryn, "are creepy as hell when you want to be."
"Happy Halloween!" Bryn smiled.
Just then, Veronica's cell phone buzzed. Seeing the display, she frowned.
"Oh no…" she read the text then looked at her friends in dismay. "I have to go to work!"
An hour later, gathered in the large conference room, Veronica looked around at her colleagues. Half the office had been called in. A few bore the traces of hastily removed makeup or costumes but they all looked professional, intense and focused on the man who stepped to the podium.
"Agents," he said, looking harassed. "I'm sorry to cut your weekend short but the police departments of both Minneapolis and St. Paul have asked for our help. It seems we have a serial killer at large."